March 12, 2007

Baseball Takes Two of Three

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The baseball team showed flashes of dominance in its three games in Philadelphia this weekend, clawing back to .500 with a doubleheader sweep over La Salle on Saturday before losing a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to fall to Villanova, 10-9, yesterday morning. Against La Salle (5-6), the Red (3-4) rode the strong performance of senior pitcher Jim Hyland to take the opener, 7-3, and continued its momentum by jumping out to an early 4-0 lead in Game 2 that it would never relinquish, beating the Explorers 6-4. Yesterday, Cornell showed its resiliency by battling back from a four-run deficit to take a 9-8 lead in the top of the eighth inning, but could not keep the Villanova at bay in the bottom half of the inning, ultimately losing, 10-9.

“I think we played really well all weekend,” said junior tri-captain Brian Kaufman. “One thing we learned is that we’re going to be competitive every time we step onto a baseball field; we have talent and resiliency.”

In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Red jumped out to an early lead with a pair of runs in the second inning. Juniors Adam Jacobs and Jimmy Heinz got the rally started with a double and a walk, respectively. After both runners advanced on a wild pitch, junior Ryan Michael singled home Jacobs and sophomore Scott Hardinger knocked in Heinz on a sacrifice fly.

When La Salle got a run back in the bottom half of the inning, Cornell busted the game wide open with a three-run fifth to take a commanding 5-1 lead. When Kaufman singled home sophomore Domenic Di Ricco, classmate designated hitter and tri-captain Brant McKown blasted a home run to left, his first of the 2007 season.

“There is no doubt that Brant’s home run was the turning point of the game,” said head coach Tom Ford. “It came at the right time, when it was still in doubt. But he opened [the game] up and kept the momentum on our side.”

The four-run cushion was all Hyland would need, as the tall right-hander (1-1) cruised to a secobnd impressive outing, pitching his second straight complete game while allowing only three runs on nine hits with three strike outs.

“He came out and established himself on the mound, challenging hitters all day,” Kaufman said. “His confidence is really high right now and we are looking forward to riding him the rest of the season.”

In game two, the Red jumped out to a 4-0 lead after Kaufman – who reached base 12 times in 13 at-bats over the weekend – cleared the bases in the second inning with a three-RBI double. The junior center fielder put an end to an early-season slump by going a combined 6/7 this weekend, including six runs, five RBI, six walks, two triples and two doubles – raising his average to a team-best .455.

“Brian helps us in so many ways,” Ford said. “He can drive the ball in the gaps and generate some runs for us that way, but he is also kind of a leadoff guy because he gets on base so much and sets the table for the rest of our lineup.”

In the top of the sixth with the score tied at 4-4, Cornell tacked on two more runs to put the game away. After junior Ry Kagan led off the inning with a double and sophomore Kyle Groth was intentionally walked with one out, Hardinger hit a line drive to score Kagan and Groth strolled home after a bases-loaded walk to Kaufman.

Freshman Tony Bertucci got the start and gave up four runs in the first two innings before giving way to senior Blake Hamilton. Hamilton picked up the win by recording five shutout innings, allowing just three hits, walking one and striking out three.

“Hamilton came out and was the pitcher we know he can be,” Ford said. “He attacked the zone all game. … He’ll be getting a lot of innings if he keeps pitching like that.”

In the final game of the road trip against Villanova (8-5), the Red once again jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. The Wildcats came storming back with four runs in the bottom of the fourth, however, to take a 6-3 lead. The Red’s typically sound defense struggled all game, as two of those runs scored when a base knock to left field snuck under Di Ricco’s glove.

“Both teams were real sloppy,” Ford said. “There were a lot of physical mistakes on both sides, which led to the back-and-forth contest.”

Junior starting pitcher Toma Walker threw four innings while giving up five earned runs on eight hits.

After Villanova added two more runs in the sixth, the Red stormed back to within one in the next inning with McKown’s second homerun of the weekend, a three-run shot to left. In the eighth, Cornell took a 9-8 lead after Di Ricco – who tripled to lead off the inning – was driven home by Kaufman’s RBI double to right-center; Kaufman then proceeded to score on a throwing error by Villanova junior shortstop Ryan Arcadia.

Senior tri-captain Tom Laughlin could not hold Villanova, however, as he gave up a run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game. After the Red went 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, Laughlin hit two batters in the bottom of the frame before being pulled for freshman David Rochefort. Rochefort proceeded to give up the game-winning single on a line drive up the middle to Villanova third basemen Derek Shunk, his fourth hit and third RBI of the day.

Despite ending on a bitter note, Ford believes there are a lot of positives to take from the weekend’s games.

“I really like the way this team competes,” he said. “They have a great drive and demonstrated some resiliency – this past game showed me a lot.